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The Big Idea: The Oracle Year

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/09/2018 - 11:09
I’m going to make the prediction that you’re going to want to read author Charles Soule’s Big Idea post on The Oracle Year, in which he talks about the future and how each of us makes predictions, every single day of our lives, and what that means for his novel. Am I correct in my […]

And Now, Almost Entirely to Shove the Picture of Me at the Hospital Down the Page a Bit, Here’s Me Wearing a Clown Nose

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 04/08/2018 - 16:03
As one does. This photo was taken at the Subterranean Press warehouse last week, while I was signing and personalizing pre-orders of Head On. Why did they have a clown nose? Maybe because they’re a fun-loving lot! Or maybe because they have a basement clown abattoir filled with body parts. Maybe both! Anyway, here you go. […]

Space news! Loyal robots, cool simulations... and water, water everywhere?

Contrary Brin - Sat, 04/07/2018 - 11:31
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SPACE  is like politics these days. So much happening that you can't keep up. Only with the difference that most space news elevates the spirit and makes you realize how wonderful we can be. 

Last week Cheryl and I visited the greatest relic of the Soviet Period, in Moscow -- yes even finer than their wonderful subway/metro stations. The Cosmonauts Museum and the awesome Monument to the Conquerors of Space.  Yes, they did some things well.

== But looking ahead... ==

Okay, you've all seen it. Still, seriously watch again SpaceX launch the Falcon Heavy. The simultaneous double-landing is even better.  But the view of Elon's roadster in space... okay you've all seen it.  Watch it again, whevever you're about to give up on us.

Almost as cool… The largest simulation of the cosmos is a first of its kind, a billion light-year-across universe-scale model, producing more than 500 terabytes of simulation data, and suggesting how black holes affect the distribution of the ever-elusive dark matter throughout galaxies. A stunning video, too.

We are a mighty, scientific civilization. Applying heart and tons of brains, we saved the ozone layer and every species of whale and are wiping out polio - competence portrayed in stunning beauty by this panorama from Mars, showing our loyal robot’s five year journey up a towering mountain, making huge discoveries along the way.

These steps forward are accompanied by danger signals all around. But they show abilities we could apply to every other crisis, if lunatics of the farthest-left and entire-right weren’t determined to trash our confidence as a logical, fact-using, problem-solving people.
While the epic journey of the Curiosity rover across Gale Crater and then up the slopes of Mt. Sharp has us enthralled (those with spirit in our hearts) - let’s recall there’s another faithful little robot on the Red Planet. I was on the committee that chose the names “Spirit” and “Opportunity” from proposals by school kids, and Opportunity is still eking her way along on measly-aging solar cells after 5000 (long) Martian days, or “sols.”  Bear in mind the rover was only built to run for about three months, and it's now been exploring Mars for just over ten years. But so far, systems look good, and there's lots of science ahead.
“Opportunity will be exploring Perseverance Valley, a shallow channel running down the inside slope of the western rim of Endeavor Crater. Scientists want to understand whether flowing water or blowing wind carved the valley in the side of the crater, and they want to understand when that process began.” The rover has covered about 28 miles since 2004, in short bursts, always seeking a stopping place tilted so its panels can soak in the sun.
And yes, I know you are already doing this. And my finger-wagging about the vital importance of optimism can get nearly 0.00000001% as tedious as the endless litanies of gloom, out there. Still, repeat it again and again, until maybe some confidence and pride bubbles forth: “I am a member of a species, civilization and nation that are competent – and cool -- enough to do stuff like this.”
== Outward into our solar system ==
A revolutionary satellite concept could give us a close view of the mysterious Martian moon Phobos. Funded by NIAC - NASA’s Innovative and Advanced Concepts program (I’m on the external advisory council) - PHLOTE would “float” above Phobos, which I have long thought one of the most valuable sites in the solar system. If it finds volatiles like water ice, near the surface, then in-situ propellant production and water for life support could slash the cost of any expeditions to the surface of the red planet, and teach us plenty about accessing and using asteroidal resources. All of which is so vastly more likely to pay off for us than joining a crowd of wannabes in a silly race to plant more footprints on the dusty and (for now) useless Moon we see above Earth.

Still, if you want to hear all sides, come to the International Space Development Conference, or SpaceDev (ISDC 2018), near LAX on May 27. There will be a debate! Robert Zubrin speaking up for Mars, Brad Blair for the Moon, Al Globus for free space, and me? I'll stand for the destination desired by most tech zillionaires and nearly all scientists and anyone who wants us to get rich enough out there to turn Earth into a garden. Asteroids.

== Details! ==

It's nearly the fiftieth anniversary of the first landing of humans on the lunar surface.  Only 24 astronauts have stood on the moon and gazed back upon the orb of their home planet. How did this perspective change their worldview? A topic explored in the newly released The Earth Gazers: On Seeing Ourselves, by Christopher Potter, which examines the path of the far-seeing visionaries that pushed incrementally toward those brave first steps on lunar soil.
The SETI Institute and the Mars Institute announced today the discovery of small pits in a large crater near the North Pole of the Moon, which may be entrances to an underground network of lava tubes. The pits were identified through analysis of imaging data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). If water ice is present, these potential lava tube entrances or “skylights” might allow future explorers easier access to subsurface ice, and therefore water, than if they had to excavate the gritty ice-rich “regolith” (surface rubble) at the actual lunar poles.  The new pits were identified on the northeastern floor of Philolaus Crater, a large, 43 mile (70 km)-diameter impact crater located at 72.1oN, 32.4oW, about 340 miles (550 km) from the North Pole of the Moon, on the lunar near side.
The new discovery opens an exciting prospect: potentially much easier access to - and extraction of - lunar polar ice. Three factors could help: 1) skylights and lava tubes could provide more direct access to the very cold polar underground, alleviating the need to excavate vast amounts of lunar regolith; 2) if ice is present inside the lava tubes – which is not yet known - it could be in the form of massive ice formations as often occur in cold lava tubes on Earth – instead of mixed-in within lunar grit, and 3) solar power would be available nearby, just outside each skylight.” Could be cool, in every sense and at NIAC we've funded some innovative ways to explore such tubes.

Still, all will depend on how much ice there is. Copious gigatons? Then I'll change my mind about prioritizing moon settlement. If mere megatons? Then that water belongs to our descendants who will need it there, and not squandering it to make rocket fuel when there is vastly more (teratons, maybe) in them thar rocks out there. Listen to the visionaries who dream of heading out there....in The Space Barons, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the Quest to Colonize the Cosmos, by Christian Davenport.

Still... the moon serves as grist for science fiction plots. Try Andy Weir's Artemis, Ian McDonald's Luna, David Pedreira's Gunpowder Moon, Stephen Baxter's Moonseed, among many other lunar tales.
== From Mars to Asteroids ==

Circling back around.

Ice on Mars? At least in the higher latitudes, it sure appears to be so. Highlands that have eroded edges are revealing what appear to be thick layers of pretty clear and pure frozen water, improving prospects for ISRU or “in-situ resource utilization,” though at least as much of a difference might be made if there’s also ISRU usable ice reserves on Phobos.
Still, blatantly, the wealth is...

More on asteroid mining… and how the Falcon Heavy and New Glenn might greatly expand the number of potential targets. And how this terrifies the old resource oligarchs on Earth. Let's suppose the asteroid miners win. Huzzah! Only... does this portend a New Oligarchy, out there, like in all the clichéd space operas?
A joint India-Japan lunar mission is just the tip of growing cooperation between the two nations in a wide range of projects that have an obvious, geopolitical underpinning.
Bigelow – the inflatable space station company – is exploring a variety of options, including one in lunar orbit.
We were just in the Arctic, as docents for a tour group, explaining to them the aurorae... and one question came up...

Are we due for a magnetic field flip?  North and south magnetic poles tend to flip over the course of the planet's history. For the past 20 million years, the pattern of pole reversals take place every 200,000 to 300,000 years. The last time a full reversal took place was approximately 780,000 ya.  The fields extend more than 10 Earth radii, or 63.7 million meters, out into space on the side facing the Sun extending all the way to the Moon's orbit at 384.4 million meters on the opposite side.  When this happens, weakened fields can no longer protect us from solar radiation and cosmic rays. Fortunately the flip process only lasts a few centuries generally.  But one more reason to maintain a watchful and scientific and science fiction loving civilization.

And...

Kilopower small nuclear reactors for space. NASA is investing heavily in this.

There's lots more, and I'm looking forward to the NIAC meeting in DC, in June. We are wonders. Believe it, and we can accomplish anything.
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

How I Spent My Afternoon

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 21:25
Spoiler: I’m fine. For the last few days I’ve been having a bit of a low grade pain in my chest that wasn’t really going away. I mentioned it to Krissy last night, who informed me I’d be calling to schedule a doctor’s appointment this morning, and this morning, when I indeed called to schedule […]

The Big Idea: Leo Carew

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 04/06/2018 - 09:47
For his debut novel The Wolf, author Leo Carew considers what it might take to be more human than human — not superhuman, but differently human. And what does it take? Read on, humans! LEO CAREW: Our current age is unusual, in that we are the only species of human on earth. For most of […]

I Can Neither Confirm Nor Deny That I Am A Timeless Goofy Immortal

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 18:16
So @laurenalexg and I both did a double take last night, thinking we saw a photo @scalzi hanging in a restaurant. This is some serious Altered Carbon shit. pic.twitter.com/hSIMwLwuFi — Peter V. Brett (@PVBrett) April 5, 2018 No comment. NO COMMENT I SAID.

The Big Idea: John Schwartz

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 04/05/2018 - 14:46
  Anyone who knows me knows that I spend I lot of time urging people — particularly writers — to get their financial houses in order. John Schwartz is a writer — a reporter in fact — and the way he got motivated to get his financial ducks in a row was to give himself […]

The Summer Kills: “Collide”

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Tue, 04/03/2018 - 17:33
My brain is a bit scrambled today, so in lieu of subjecting you to unintelligible babble, here, have this pretty nifty song by the new band The Summer Kills, which features my pal Matthew Ryan on vocals. It’s called “Collide,” and if you like Achtung Baby/Zooropa-era U2, this will be your new jam: If you […]

Transformations and light

Contrary Brin - Tue, 04/03/2018 - 17:30
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Have you missed your regular dose of ornery-brinnian contrariness? We've just returned from more than two weeks on the road… first in Finnish Lapland, north of the Arctic Circle, guiding an aurora expedition. Woof. Setting up telescopes in the night-wind can be, well, ‘bracing.’ (It helped to have a comfy glass "igloo" to return to, each night, plus some excellent winter gear.) Traveling by dog sled was an experience! 

In Red SquareThen on to St. Petersburg and Moscow for the Russian national science fiction convention. We learned a lot and made new friends, though our Moscow phase was too frenzied-busy with speeches and interviews to really feel we've seen the place. We made lively and fascinating new friends... saw the trailer for a terrific new SF film based on Sergei Lukyanenko’s novel “Chernovik” … and encountered the worst traffic I've seen. Folks were forgiving of - and far too easily impressed by - my fumbling efforts at their beautifully evocative language.

More on all of that, soon.

And yes, certain topics came up in conversation, bringing to mind the book I read on the plane  -- Vladimir Sorokin's Day of the Oprichnik (2006) -- which chillingly foretold a return of fierce Czarist-Orthodox autarchy, tech-amplified to a degree only dreamed of, in Nineteen Eighty-Four.

To be clear, the Russians I met - those expressing an opinion - seem to feel a bit less constrained and micromanaged than in Soviet times, and measurably more prosperous, but still highly cautious. While the State is somewhat less overbearing than before, skyrocketing inequality and the return of inherited social class throw shadows on the future. (Shadows now girdling the globe, making Sorokin seem prophetic.) For all of its countless, brutal hypocrisies, communism was idealistic, inviting citizens to squint toward some kind of aspirational goal . We saw the best of this at Moscow's fabulous Cosmonauts' Museum and soaring Monument to the Conquerors of Space (pictured). 

Even if based on magically-unrealistic models of human nature, that era at least envisioned a lofty future for all. Even if betrayed by a hypocritical nomenklatura, at least the touted aim was to end 60 centuries of overlordship by men who whose sole justification for absolute power derived solely from being someone's son and heir. There is a way to achieve that. It's just not the path prescribed by the sci-fi writer -- Karl Marx.

Which brings us back to our recurring theme. Accountability. And why it can only happen where light flows. Only where it flows in all directions.

== Rivers of light ==

Street lamps are fast-becoming the central nervous system of either our new, smart cities or else an Orwellian nightmare.  Read about the experiment in San Diego’s East Village neighborhood, whose streetlights were looking—and listening—all around them, while also monitoring temperature, humidity, and other characteristics of the air. By sometime in May, about 3,200 of the sensing lights, will each monitor an oval area of roughly 36 by 54 meters (120 to 180 feet). They could easily be hooked into the city’s existing ShotSpotter network, which automatically locates the source of gunfire, increasing ShotSpotter coverage from just 10 square kilometers.
Along with the sensing streetlights, San Diego will be replacing an additional 14,000 of the city’s more than 40,000 streetlights with energy-efficient LED lamps that can communicate with one another and operators and allow brightness adjustments to save energy.”  And none of this should surprise anyone who read The Transparent Society … or even EARTH.
Those who fear that this could help lead to Big Brother have reason for their worries! Elites will be tempted to make all of this surveillance information go in one direction – either for nefarious reasons or else, initially, “for our own good.” Some champions of civil liberties think we can prevent harmful disparities of power by hiding from these elites. 

Alas… that… is… stupid. Because every year, the cameras get smaller, faster, cheaper, better more mobile and vastly more numerous, faster than Moore’s Law. There is no scenario - of any kind - under which hiding or shadows will even conceivably help the little guy or average citizen.
The answer is for us all to share in these information tsunamis. Sousveillance. It won’t prevent being looked at. That tidal wave is coming. But looking back at power could teach us all to surf.
== Visionaries ==
Here's an extraordinary work of intellectual honesty. Astrophysicist Brian Keating explores the fascinating history and mixed effects of the Nobel Prize, especially on the field of physics. For a few years, Keating felt these effects, as people chattered about his own possible candidacy, before the chances and mischances of science changed course. That experience informs Losing the Nobel Prize: A Story of Cosmology, Ambition and the Perils of Science's Highest Honor. An amazing journey.  Pre-order for April publication.
Oh, I'll be interviewing Brian on stage on April 25 at UCSD's Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, where the sciences and arts come together to explore humanity's most unique gift.  (Get on the mailing list for cool events.)

Meanwhile...

Increased demand from “coin miners” (e.g. BitCoin) has ramped up the prices for Nvidia and AMD processors called GPUs. Nvidia asked retailers to try and "put gamers first when they are conducting retail GPU sales. Even worse, as reported by the BBC, radio astronomers and scientists observing our galaxy are struggling to expand their work due to a lack of these key components.
“Berkeley-based Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), for example, wishes to expand their research at two observatories, but without the latest GPUs to process data and support the use of software applications, the scientists' options going forward are limited. "We'd like to use the latest GPUs [...] and we can't get 'em," Dr. Dan Werthimer. (My friend & colleague.)
Huh! So-o-o-o… Bitcoin etc is an alien plot to keep us in the dark?
Peter Diamandis - who founded the XPrize Foundation and who has famously become wealthy while partnering or stimulating dozens of new businesses and projects that spread abundance to all - says: “Having the right mindset is essential in preparing yourself for these new opportunities. And something I call a “Massively Transformative Purpose,” or MTP. I’ve put together free training to teach you exactly what an MTP is, how you can discover your own, and how this knowledge affects everything else you will do for the rest of your life. Watch the video.” 

Essentially, he’s offering tips how to evade the gloom trap spread by all media and all political factions, and activate your prefrontal lobes to see opportunities. “If you can anticipate what’s coming, you have a tremendous advantage in life.”
. . ...a collaborative contrarian product of David Brin, Enlightenment Civilization, obstinate human nature... and http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/ (site feed URL: http://davidbrin.blogspot.com/atom.xml)

Consuming Fire UK Cover Reveal + Head On Gender Thoughts

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/02/2018 - 12:10
First, hey, look: Here’s the UK cover to The Consuming Fire! Ooooh, pretty. Bella Pagan, my Tor UK editor, writes about it here, and specifically does a shoutout to cover designer Lisa Brewster for her work. Which pleases me: Always give credit where credit is due, I say. Also today, a piece I wrote on […]

What The Hell, April Fool’s Snow Storm: A Photo Essay

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Mon, 04/02/2018 - 09:59
It’s not like we needed more snow at the moment, it being April and all, harumph, harumph, but at least it’s pretty.

Thoughts On This Year’s Hugo Finalist Ballot

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 03/31/2018 - 19:03
In no particular order: 1. First, and obviously, I’m delighted that The Collapsing Empire has been nominated. I like that book a lot, and it has some of my favorite characters ever in it, so to see it on the Hugo ballot this year is real validation for me. To be honest I had no […]

2018 Hugo Award Finalists (Plus Campbell and YA Award Finalists)

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sat, 03/31/2018 - 15:38
Here’s the ballot. I’m happy to say The Collapsing Empire is among them. Congratulations to all the finalists. It’s a heck of a good year. I’ll have more thoughts on Empire’s nomination in an upcoming post. 2018 Hugo Awards Finalists Best Novel The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (Tor) New York 2140, by Kim Stanley […]

New Books and ARCs, 3/30/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 03/30/2018 - 14:11
On this Good Friday, here are some good books and ARCs for you to admire. What here would you like on your own shelves? Share in the comments!

In Which Amber Benson and Wil Wheaton Talk About Narrating Head On + Audio Excerpt Mashup

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Thu, 03/29/2018 - 12:45
Over on the Verge today, there’s a piece up about the audio version of Head On, which like its predecessor Lock In will have two narrators: Wil Wheaton and Amber Benson. Wil and Amber talk about narrating a book whose main character’s gender is unknown to them (because it’s also unknown to me, the author […]

Reminder: Signed/Personalized Copies of Head On Still Available Through Subterranean Press

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 16:09
But you need to hurry as I am traveling up there in a week to do the signing/personalizing. And also, frankly, there are a limited number and that number is shrinking, so if you want one (or two! or five!) then you should really place an order very soon. Here’s the link to pre-order. Get […]

To The People Who Are Concerned That I’m Blogging a Bit Less Recently

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Wed, 03/28/2018 - 13:04
I have a book due soon, that’s why. Expect it to continue to be spottier in terms of frequency until I’m done. Otherwise, don’t panic, everything else is fine, and in fact, pretty darn good. Thanks.

Sunset, 3/25/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 20:13
A reminder we do live in a beautiful world, although sometimes we need to look up to remember.

About That March

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Sun, 03/25/2018 - 13:14
A few thoughts on the March For Our Lives, in no particular order: 1. I personally didn’t expect it to be as large as it turned out to be, with 800,000 protesters in Washington DC and hundreds of thousand more (at least) across the country. There were even several hundred marchers in Dayton, the largest […]

New Books and ARCs, 3/23/18

Whatever (John Scalzi) - Fri, 03/23/2018 - 15:02
This week’s stack of new books and ARCs has some very choice titles in it, I have to say. What here is speaking to you? Tell us all in the comments!
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